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Local Man Recalls Hearing Dr. King’s “Dream” Speech Firsthand

Posted at: 08/28/2013 11:01 PM
By: John Doetkott

Dr. Toby Thompson
Dr. Toby Thompson

(ABC 6 News) -- Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his now infamous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Historians estimate the speech was heard live by nearly 250,000 people, including one local doctor from Albert Lea.

“It was hot and humid just like today,” said Dr. Toby Thompson. “Forty of us gathered in a bus and met other buses from New York City, and we drove down early in the morning."

Dr. Thompson remembers the day well, recalling that when he got to Washington D.C., he was greeted in a small church basement by Hubert Humphrey and other civil rights leaders where he was trained on how to remain calm in the face of violence.

But no violence would come.

“The march itself was fantastic,” Dr. Thompson said. “Sometimes you didn't know who to walk with because it was a joyous thing, and you could hear people talking and some were singing, and some were carrying sandwich boards and some had flags, and some were veterans and some were preachers and some were students..."

After a long march, Dr. Thompson found himself alongside the reflecting pool, not far from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“People were in the reflecting pool too,” Dr. Thompson said laughing. “It was hot.”

And it wasn't long before Dr. King took the stage.

“I remember the speech, of course,” Dr. Thompson said. “I remember especially the biblical passages like, 'Justice should roll down like water,' and, 'We shall be free at last,' etc.. And the response from the crowd was fantastic."

And while the crowds cheered, Dr. Thompson said that at the time, the day's historical significance was still unclear.

“It was a happy and almost liberating sense of being part of something that should happen and not knowing what it meant,” Dr. Thompson said. “In those days we had no idea what might come of this."

What came was landmark civil rights legislation and one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement.

“I thought it was joyous,” Dr. Thompson said. “It was exhilarating, not in a frantic way, but just to be a part of something like that, it was a wonderful experience."